As more families fleeing the war in Ukraine arrive in Alberta, new students from overseas are adjusting to Calgary classrooms.
There are now 131 displaced children from Ukraine attending schools within the Calgary Board of Education, and 24 more are expected to arrive before the end of the school year.
There are 60 students registered with the Calgary Catholic School Board, and a spokesperson from the board said there are more calls and inquiries daily.
Iryna Dudei and her 11-year-old daughter arrived in Calgary from Ukraine a month ago. It was a hard decision to leave her home, family and teaching career in Kyiv but Yuliia’s safety had to come first.
“We are slowly acclimatizing to Calgary,” Iryna said through an interpreter. “We are appreciating how secure and safe the environment is in Calgary.”
It was also a difficult decision to uproot Yuliia from her friends and school, but within two weeks of arriving in Calgary, the grade five student was already enrolled at Wildwood School in the city’s southwest.
“She was able to write her test for English and the process was very smooth for her,” said Iryna.
Yuliia said she’s already made friends and likes her new teacher.
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“My teacher is Mrs. Hidalgo. She smiles for us in our class. I like her,” Yuliia said.
“When Yuliia came, the teacher created the Ukrainian flag and the teacher had all of the students create flags from their particular heritage so they were all sharing that together. It was very warming and interesting and inviting,” Iryna said.
Iryna, who worked as a teacher in Kyiv, said the system here is a bit different than in Ukraine.
“The homework is much more intensive in the curriculum (in Ukraine) so Yuliia is actually finding the transition quite easy because there’s less homework here,” Iryna said.
After arrival, new students first go to a welcoming centre for an assessment of their language proficiency and to see what other needs they may have.
“I think all of our refugee students — regardless of what country they come from — we recognize that they have gone through a pretty traumatic experience being displaced and fleeing their country,” said CBE superintendent of school improvement Andrea Holowka.
“For mental health supports, we look at what’s needed on an individual basis and then we provide supports either at the school level or if need be, we bring in other mental health professionals.”
Holowka said between July 1, 2021, and April 30, 2022, the CBE has seen an influx of refugees from Afghanistan and a continuation of refugees from Syria. During that time, about 260 Afghan refugees and 110 student refugees from Syria have been registered.
“The lessons learned from that is to be open to getting to know each child and their family and what their needs are,” Holowka said. “I think we recognize that there are many challenges that they have gone through, but needing to sit and take time to hear their story and connect with them to understand what their needs are, and then transitioning them to the school in a very thoughtful manner so they can have a really good start in the education system in Canada.”
The CBE expects the next large influx of refugee students from Afghanistan and Syria to arrive and be registered within the CBE during the summer.
Holowka said there’s no word yet on how many more students are expected from Ukraine.